Sugar Plum Fairies or Blood Sugar Scaries? How to Stay Balanced During the Holidays
Parties, cookie swaps, walks in the park sipping hot cocoa, champagne toasts, hosting family from out of town and cooking special meals for a hungry crowd… Yes, it’s that time of year! No matter what you choose to celebrate (or not celebrate) during the holiday season, you likely encounter at least one of these scenarios from November to January. It is a wonderful, emotional, chaotic time all rolled into one.
With all that activity and buzz in the air, it’s easy to prioritize everything BUT our own health. Well, I’m here to tell you that this is exactly the time of year when we all need to prioritize health the most! Not least of all because our immune systems are being tested everyday by stress, indulgent treats and circulating viruses. Luckily, it’s possible to accomplish all you want to do, enjoy the season to the fullest AND stay healthy. I know this because there was a time in my life when a little holiday indulgence could have been a life or death choice – I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes at age 40.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and the following is not professional medical advice. I am speaking from my personal experience as a plant-based food expert and former pre-diabetic. The choices I have made won’t have the same results for other people.
Instead, what I hope you take away from this post is this: Although everyone’s body is unique, there is ALWAYS hope to live a happier, healthier life. It IS within your reach! When you thoughtfully incorporate body-loving habits into your diet and lifestyle (with the assistance of your doctor) you are taking steps toward that best version of yourself.
Read on to learn about some of the habits I incorporate into my life during the festive season to keep my blood sugar balanced and my body feeling great!
Right now you might be thinking “well, I don’t have diabetes, so this post isn’t for me.” But it IS for you! The fact is, type 2 diabetes can happen to anyone at any stage in life. We should all care about the amount of glucose in our blood for long-term health. AND it just so happens that the practices that keep our blood sugar balanced are also vital to our overall health! So no matter who you are, these tips will definitely help to keep you well – during the holidays and all year ‘round.
First, here’s a little blood sugar 101:
- Blood Sugar is the amount of glucose in your blood. Everyone has glucose in their blood, because it provides fuel for all the cells in our bodies.
- Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, controls the amount of glucose in our blood.
- Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are conditions that prevent the body from properly producing or reacting to insulin which results in high blood sugar. Type 1 is an autoimmune disorder that occurs early in life, and type 2 (the more common one) occurs from a combination of genetics, lifestyle and diet. It can happen at any point in life.
- High blood sugar, aka Hyperglycaemia, can seriously damage almost any part of your body. It slowly erodes the ability of your pancreas to make insulin, and it leads to hardening blood vessels. If left unaddressed, the results can include kidney failure, stroke, heart attack, blindness, nerve damage and more. (That’s why diabetes is so serious!)
- The level of blood sugar considered normal is less than 100 milligrams of glucose per decilitre of blood after not eating for at least 8 hours. A person with fasting blood glucose levels of 100 to 125 mg/dL has pre-diabetes, and 126 mg/dL or higher indicates diabetes.
Tips for balancing blood sugar during the holidays (and long after!)
- FIBER IS YOUR FRIEND. Here’s a simple rule of thumb: the more fiber a food has in it, the slower your body will metabolize it and the slower its sugars will be released into your bloodstream. Always opt for foods that naturally contain fiber! For example, choose to eat an apple with the skin, instead of drinking apple juice. Eat sprouted, whole grain bread instead of white bread. Eat a date spread with peanut butter when you have a sweet craving, instead of a dessert made with white sugar. (Check out our dessert options, all refined-sugar free!)
- DON'T SKIP BREAKFAST – AND MAKE IT SAVORY. Studies show that eating breakfast results in lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, a healthier weight-range and lower risk of getting diabetes! I believe this is because it nourishes us early in the day, so we don’t find ourselves ravenous later on when the only options are quick, unhealthy ones. By eating a nutrient-dense meal within an hour of waking up, you are supplying your cells with fuel at a time when your body is primed and ready to receive nutrients (after fasting, while you slept). I like to “break my fast” with a high-protein and fiber-rich meal like a quinoa bowl filled with roasted root vegetable, sautéed kale, sprouted pumpkin seeds, and a creamy avocado dressing.
- NO MATTER HOW BUSY YOU ARE, MAKE TIME FOR MOVEMENT. Exercise lowers blood sugar! According to the American Diabetes Association, it increases insulin sensitivity so that “your muscle cells are better able to use any available insulin to take up glucose during and after activity.” Also, “when your muscles contract during activity, your cells are able to take up glucose and use it for energy whether insulin is available or not." So keep your muscles pumping every day! At the very least, you can take a daily walk to enjoy the beautiful holiday lights in your town! This will also reduce stress and help you to fully enjoy the season.
- RESERVE TREATS FOR SPECIAL MOMENTS WITH LOVED ONES. It’s SO easy to over-indulge this time of year. Fun, delicious, decadent foods are literally everywhere and who wants to miss that?! But refined sugar, alcohol and white flour all spike blood sugar. Instead, save them for special occasions that you’ll remember at season’s end: a little libation to toast with friends, a special dinner with family, a cookie baked with love from gramma. Savor them slowly, and really appreciate them! The body can handle these treats when you stick with healthy habits 95% of the time.
- SOME SUPPLEMENTS CAN ASSIST YOU. We can get the vast majority of vitamins and minerals we need from fresh, organic fruits and vegetables! But during the holidays, with extra stress and temptations around, you might want to get some help from supplements. Cinnamon, American ginseng and vitamin D can all be taken in pill form to help balance blood sugar. Check out this article for more! (Remember: always check with your doctor before taking new supplements!)
- MEAL PREP FOR SUCCESS. Now is NOT the time to skip grocery shopping day – you don’t want to catch yourself starving when you only have holiday cookies and a novelty tin of caramel corn in your kitchen! Think of at least 3 nourishing recipes that you want to make, and craft a shopping list around the ingredients you’ll need to make them. Stock your freezer with organic frozen veggies and fruit, which are easy to use in smoothies and soups. Cook quinoa and roasted root vegetables to have in the fridge for a quick bowl. Make a large batch of nut milk to blend with Superfood Blends or overnight oats. In just a few steps, you’re well on your way to consistent, healthy eating!
Some people, like myself, are genetically predisposed to high blood sugar. Both my grandmother and mother had diabetes. So when I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes in my 40s, I knew I would have to start taking my lifestyle choices VERY seriously in order to avoid that same fate. It was my commitment to a plant-based diet and the tips listed above that reversed my diagnosis within a year – and 20 years later I’m fortunate to still be diabetes-free!
No matter who you are, you deserve to feel your best – and enjoy foods that you love! I believe that with all my heart, and I hope this post has given you some tools you can use to feel great and enjoy the holidays to the fullest. And remember, if you need more inspiration or a healthy treat to keep you going, Nüssli118° is here for you.